Essay On Roots By Alex Haley
The people of Juffure organize their history in relation to such magical meteorological interventions, and by nesting his own history into this non-Western historiographical paradigm, Haley suggests an essential affinity between his understanding of American history in 1976 and Kunta’s understanding of Juffure’s history in the 1750s.
To the extent that we admire Haley’s Mandinka villagers and despise his slave traders, we become receptive to the possibility that the aboriginal “mythical” understanding of history is preferable to the Western model of history in all the ways that Haley’s idealized Mandinka society is preferable to a society structured around trade in human chattel.
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The publication of Alex Haley’s Roots and simultaneous broadcast of the ABC miniseries adaptation was one of the most successful multiplatform media events of the twentieth century.
More fundamentally, however, the necessity of squaring Mandinka history with Haley’s challenges our basic ideas about what history is. Ankersmit’s definition of narrativist historiography, according to which, “the historian’s language does not reflect a coherence …
The connection that the Mandinka accept as authentic between the praying holy man and the coming rain, a connection which a Western reader would likely dismiss as spurious, is nevertheless one which has an undoubtedly real effect on Mandinka society. in the past itself, but only gives coherence to the past” (154).
The continuing controversy over Haley's writing and research methods and the facts of his narrative has not dimmed his achievement.
Haley’s genealogical scholarship was also challenged. On the American side of the Atlantic, an accumulation of historical discrepancies ultimately caused Haley to acknowledge that Roots should be understood as a work of “faction,” even as he contradictorily defended the integrity of the oral history passed down through his family as fundamentally reliable.
Simultaneously, on the African side of the Atlantic, further scholarship has revealed that the Gambian village of Juffure, which Roots describes as Kunta Kinte’s idyllic home community, was likely a slave-trading epicenter, through which slaves from all over West Africa passed on their way to the new world (Gijanto).
“The magic man’s body writhed, his face contorted, his eyes rolled wildly as his trembling hands struggled to force his resisting wand into contact with the heap of mysterious objects.
When the wand’s tip, with a supreme effort, finally touched, he fell over backward and lay as if struck by lightning. In his mercy, Allah had seen fit to spare Juffure once again” (30).